Criminal business and monetary damage: a fleet of Asian ships preys on the Argentine sea

Due to illegal fishing in the exclusive Argentine zone, the country suffers a revenue loss of US $ 1.4 billion and ecological damage estimated at US $ 2.5 billion per year. The Government created a Unit on Friday to improve controls.

Criminal business and monetary damage: a fleet of Asian ships preys on the Argentine sea

Written by El Cronista
Friday, 29 January 2021 13:39

The Argentine coast is home to a portion of the most valuable marine biodiversity on the planet. The warm ocean currents of Brazil meet the cold waters of the Falkland Islands, on a vast plain of seabed that precipitates abruptly at the edge of the continental shelf. This allows marine life to thrive.

Studies show a pattern of displacement of predatory fleets: they start fishing in the middle of the Pacific for a few weeks. Between May, July and August they go to the Galapagos Islands and the coasts of Colombia, Peru and Chile, and at this time, they are in the Argentine exclusive economic zone. In our case, the main incentive for illegal fishing is illex squid, but also hake, rays and sharks.

The presence of approximately 300 Asian vessels, mainly Chinese, recreate unregulated fishing that threatens the development of the sector because the national industry must compete against predators that, to cut costs, exploit resources without respecting processes, cycles or regulations. This negatively impacts jobs and other related activities such as the shipbuilding industry.

The IUU Fishing Index is a ranking that helps to know how nations behave in this industry and the efforts they make to keep it under international regulation. In 2020, Belgium was the highest rated country; China, the lowest.

This criminal activity moves millions of dollars: it is the sixth most lucrative criminal business in the world, with revenues ranging between US $15,000 million and US $ 36,000 million, according to Global Financial Integrity.

China’s long-haul fleet, which includes fishing, transport, support and supply vessels, numbers some 17,000 vessels, compared with 300 for the United States. According to Greenpeace, it is the main entity in charge of illegal fishing from Argentina to Senegal. Many times those same boats are used to traffic weapons, drugs and people. The working conditions of the crew, many recruited from Myanmar or Cambodia, are often extremely dangerous.

Through a statement, the Latin American Alliance for Sustainable Fishing and Food Security (Apescas), an organization of which the Argentine Chamber of Deep Sea Fishing Vessel Owners is a part, made its complaint clear.

“Alpescas rejects the repeated threat posed to our fisheries by the fleets of distant-water fishing countries that, without any control from their flag States, and abusing the freedom of fishing on the high seas, invade our fishing grounds,” it said. 

Likewise, it called on all Latin American governments and the Regional Fisheries Management Organizations (RFMO), especially the South Pacific Organization (RFMO-PS), to strengthen their regional fisheries management systems.

“China’s colossal deep-sea fleet engages in a wide range of problematic behaviors in Latin American waters, including overfishing, the deliberate and accidental capture of protected species, the use of trawl nets and other practices that accelerate fishing, the collapse of fisheries, pollution by plastics and other wastes, and unauthorized entry and fishing in the exclusive economic zones and maritime protected areas of the region,” said Evan Ellis, analyst and associate professor at the Institute for Strategic Studies from the United States Army War College.

The expert also stressed that “Beijing has continuously denied the existence of these practices, which is why it is turning its back on its responsibility to put an end to them.” At the same time, it recognized that, “despite the fact that violations of international law are well-documented and there are several antecedents on these activities on the coasts of Ecuador and Argentina, the geography makes the protection of Latin American waters from Chinese incursions difficult and expensive.”

The Chinese fleet moves freely before the light sanctions imposed by Argentine legislation. A fishing vessel operating in the exclusive economic zone is only fined US $150,000, when it generates profits of more than US $4 million per season. And when its holds are full, a refrigerated vessel known as a “refrigerator” or “mothership” appears that unloads the fish, and allows it to continue preying. This process is known as transshipment.

The Argentine Government has just created a Coordination Unit for the Certification of Catches and Exports of fish in the Argentine sea, made official with the publication this Friday of Resolution 11/2021 in the Official Gazette. The Unit aims precisely at improving control over this economic activity.

Meanwhile, the national deputies Juan Aicega, Francisco Sánchez and Ignacio Torres, presented a request for reports so that the Executive can account for the captures made by foreign vessels and the sanctions that were applied to them.

According to the Fishing Law, 20% of the National Fishing Fund must be assigned to equipment and tasks of patrolling and policing the activity.

Read the original coverage from El Cronista at

Informing and sharing news on marine life, flora, fauna and conservation in the Galápagos Islands since 2017
© SOS Galápagos, 2021

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